Friday, February 3, 2017

THE MGAZINE INTERVIEW: Miss Gay America 2017 Suzy Wong on Reigning and Loving It!

Photo: Scotty Kirby

Though the Miss Gay America blog, MGAZINE, made its debut about a month ago, we’d like to make it official with our first interview–appropriately–with the reigning Miss Gay America 2017 Suzy Wong. Look for forthcoming interviews with Miss Gay America 2016–now a Forever Miss Gay America–Asia O’Hara, a selection of this year’s regional and state title holders, our official MGA photographer Kristofer Reynolds and even a former Miss America. Yes, girls, we are serving! Here now, Miss Gay America 2017, Suzy Wong. 

For many, participating in the MGA system is a life changing event, a welcome source of confidence, structure and family. Several queens have even claimed they were “raised” by the MGA and that the MGA saved their lives by giving them the support they needed to get off alcohol or drugs. For you, has the MGA been more of a goal, a challenge vs. a life-altering or life-saving experience? What does being in the Miss Gay America system mean to you personally? What impact has participating in the MGA had on your life? 

Regardless of personal background, to me, the MGA system is just as much life changing, a source of confidence, structure and family.  I am a work-horse and have been supported to seek success in all that I do.  Through my experiences and opportunities, I have been challenged to push hard in my daily life and have an opportunity to share and celebrate my successes.  MGA has provided an emotional growth for me.  I am in wonder of the dedication and love that is rooted with in the system.  Participation in the MGA  system is a choice I made based on nothing but passion. As far as MGA being a goal, honestly, MGA has to be a goal in order to win. But the goal of the physical crown isn’t the reason why I competed.  I found something that I believe in, that resonates within me, and I feel that I can share my gifts to elevate it. 

What are your duties as Miss Gay America 2017?

Promoting and being the face of the Miss Gay America pageant. I’ve already participated in several events, including AIDS Walk Arizona and the Mr. Gay USofA pageant. Starting in March I will be attending and assisting in the judging at all the qualifying regional and state preliminaries throughout 2017 leading up to the big final Miss Gay America pageant next October in New Orleans. I’m already doing a lot of planning and working closely with the new owners of Miss Gay America, plus I’m busy traveling a lot myself, volunteering and doing community outreach.

As Miss Gay America, a majority of the reign consists of overseeing the qualifying contests for the following year.  I will travel extensively and attend all of the state and regional contests to insure administrative consistency. 

Who are Suzy Wong’s style icons? 

Guy Pei, Carolina Herrera, Zac Posen, Christian Dior, Sofia Vergara, Carmen Dell’Orefice.  

If and when you have it, what do you do in your downtime? 

I like to work on my home.  I love decor and renovation projects. I love cooking and experimenting with recipes.  I love donating my time to various charities. Live theater is a passion too. 

What do you say to people, gay and straight, who think drag queens and drag pageants are silly, or worse? (Or as Miss Gay North Carolina America 2015 Vivian Vaughn said, "They assume it’s me with a mop on my head an lipstick all up to my eyes. They have no idea what I’m really doing!") 

I don’t really like to focus on nay-sayers.  What I do is a confident reflection of who I am be it in a dress or slacks.  I have a clear and realized vision and respect for what I do and in return command that from the people around me.  It’’s not my place to form others opinions, that’s not in my control.  If they are bothered or have a negative opinion about drag culture, then that’s their right.  I don’t care for golf that much, so it’s on me to not surround myself with golfers. 

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” has brought drag to the mainstream in a big way, but in doing so has, some feel, stolen the spotlight from more traditional drag. How would you sell Miss Gay America to “Drag Race” fans as well as (often younger) drag queens obsessed with getting on "'Drag Race" vs. getting on their local drag stage? 

I don’t feel that RuPauls Drag Race has stolen the spotlight but more so has put female impersonation and drag culture in a different light.  The show has opened the consumers eyes to the art form, and that is commendable.  What the show has done is inspire a new generation of queens.  The best way to be in any situation is to be your strongest self.  Everyone’s goals are different and definitely evolve with time.  I am surrounded by former “Drag Race” contestants and winners daily but I know that my place and my passion is within pageantry.  I know this because I am inspired and relate to those who preceded me. So, in trying to impress younger queens, I can only be myself as the reality queens can only be themselves.  People will gravitate towards what they feel connected to. 

What do you want rabid “Drag Race” fans to know, understand about MGA and it’s place at the drag (make-up) table? 

MGA has a history that has greatly influenced and molded what drag pageantry culture is today.  
How would you describe the Miss Gay America esthetic?
When I think of Miss Gay America’s esthetic, I think of a regal red carpet.  There is a refinement and attention to quality.  

Miss Gay America 2017 Suzy Wong and family, moments after her crowning at Miss Gay America 2017 last October. Photo: Daniel Rinehart for Deejers Design

It may surprise many to know that not only is the MGA is classy, G-rated entertainment, but that many contestants have family members in the audience. Can you comment on your family support and the family support of other queens you know in the system? 

I live in a very supportive environment. My parents and sister were at the pageant to watch me win; they are very open with who I am. Back in Nashville after the pageant, I was at my mom's restaurant eating, and she kept telling everybody I won Miss Gay America, and showing all her photos. Everyone there could see how proud she was. She’s leading by example. My mom doesn't blink twice when she talks to her friends about what I do; my dad doesn't either. We'll jump from talking about a boxing match to a pageant at dinner very casually, because, first and foremost, I'm their son. They don't care who I go to bed with unless I want to share it. They support me because what I'm doing is something they know that I'm passionate about. It's irrelevant whether I'm a homosexual or not. If I like rhinestones, I like rhinestones. 

A different sense of family runs deep in the MGA system. Queens who won decades ago stay in touch and religiously attend the regional and annual pageants. I think this is something that does not occur to outside observers. Why do you think the “sisterhood” so powerful in the MGA? 

As in anything where you dedicate your life’s work, blood, sweat and tears, it is only natural that you develop relationships and bonds. Being MGA is an honor and as I am learning daily, a commitment to excellence that is not only fulfilling but at times, quite trying.  Only MGAs understand this. Thus the strong connection. 

While “Drag Race” has brought drag to mainstream audiences, many of the more traditional competitions, I’d say all of the top female impersonator pageants, as well as their contestants are feeling a bit marginalized and forgotten. What would you say to them to give them hope, encourage them to enter their chosen system? 

I don't think we are forgotten but I do challenge everyone to stay current, creative and trendy.  I am not discouraged, but rather encouraged my the opportunity to push the art form to draw attention to ourselves. 

Gay bars are closing, everyone’s on Grindr or at home watching the bazillion TV shows now on offer, including “Drag Race.” What do you think regional drag needs to do to push back, survive when gay bars are closing and opportunities for drag performances are shrinking? 

I’d answer in the same context of the previous question.  Nothing is given to us.  We are responsible for our ultimate outcome.  If you want an audience, then give people a reason to want to come out and see you. To me, it’s business sense, supply and demand. 

Though MGA is very traditional, particularly in the ladylike esthetic, many of the queens are performing to the same songs drag queens have been doing for decades! Performances are 90% lip-synching to songs, so music is a great way to keep MGA fresh. One of my favorite queens of the MGA2017 week was Catia Lee Love for her really fun interpretations of Megan Trainor’s “Me Too” followed by The Kungs “That Girl,” which I loved not only because it was so perfect for her and she had so much fun with it, but also because I didn’t know the song! What do you think about encouraging queens to step away from the tired drag classics and instead opt for contemporary or more unusual, interesting songs, new or old? Or, along the lines of David Halperin’s book, “How to Be Gay,” do we need to keep the drag classics and the camp in the Talent category performances? 

I love all kinds of drag, and as you said about Catia, as long as the song fits the persona, there is success.  I’ve been to may progressive events where a queen stays traditionally classic, busts out an opera, or even tap dances right next to an edgy queen doing a top 40 or alternative rock song.  The most important thing to me is that a performance has integrity and authenticity to the person performing it. 

Charity and giving back to the community has always been closely associated with the Miss Gay America pageant. Tell us about your Feed the Souls charity and how it—and giving back in general—will be incorporated into your reign. 

“Feeding Souls” combines my two passions: food and drag. By selling Wong branded concessions at events such as pride festival and pageants, we raise money to be donated to an LGBT youth center in one of the cities I’ll visit during my reign as Miss Gay America 2017. The donation will go toward implementing a vocational program providing skills towards independence. It may be computer stations for a community center, pots and pans for the central kitchen, or maybe even a make up station and sewing room for those with a creative bug like me.​ Go to my website ( and click “Feeding Souls Campaign” to get involved.

Additionally, I have decided that during my reign, the money I receive for my crown song at every pageant through out the year will go to a charity of one of the cities I visit.  I will draw the charity out of a hat on final night of MGA 2018. 

 Photo: Kristofer Reynolds

Miss Gay America is female impersonation in its purest sense. No surgery, so fillers, no overt plucking. Not all men are made for drag. For some creating the illusion of being a woman is easier than others. Does it matter if you’ve got a head like a horse and body of a bulldog when it comes to MGA ,or is the judging so technical that it goes beyond what you see on stage: You may still look like a man in a dress, but the dress, wig, make-up is technically perfect? 

The goal is to master the art of female illusion. There are ways to achieve this by use of corsets and pads. At the end of the day, the overall image is quite crucial. There are many components to the judging criteria.  For example in male interview, one should look dapper, be intelligent and communicate well. In evening gown, one should look elegant and like that of a female persona.  In Talent, one should display a demonstrable expertise in what one is presenting.  All of these components and more are what create a successful contestant. 

You are the first Miss Gay America to actually be crowned under the pageant’s new ownership by Mad Angel Entertainment (Rob Mansman and Michael Dutzer). At this year’s pageant they hinted at exciting changes coming to the pageant. What is your role in the evolution of the pageant and your vision for its future? 

Correct, Under new ownership, I am the first to be crowned.  As the expectations are not defined by the pageant’s office, I feel that my contributions and strengths lie in uniting the drag community, creating media buzz, rising awareness of the MGA system through community outreach, and staying relevant as it pertains to pop culture and society.  I feel that by sparking interest and excitement, the efforts will inspire more involvement and much future contestants to continue the pursuits of relevancy for MGA. 

Suzy Wong’s character is based on a novel turned movie “The World of Suzie Wong” (a Chinese “hooker with a heart of gold”) and provided the concept your Suzy Wong’s House of Yum restaurant (“a brothel of epicurean delight”) where you host a Drag Brunch on weekends. Which came first, Suzy or the restaurant? What made you want to “be” Suzy and when was Suzy “born”? 

As a chef businessperson, I missed the aspect of performing. As a child, I was a figure skater, and as a young adult, I toured as a professional figure skater. So going into business, opening restaurants, cooking, I kind of missed the performance aspect of my life.  The restaurant came first and the queen followed shortly after.  I’m glad that she came to surface.  Suzy is a glamorous extension and voice for Arnold. 

Tell us about Suzy’s debut? Was it a performance? And if so, what was the act or number/song?
Suzy debuted like many others, on Halloween as a way to advertise my restaurant.  I performed at my business partner’s club, Play Dance Bar, in Nashville.  I was great! lol... It was second nature for me as I was used to being in front of an audience. I wore a custom kimono with a 20 foot train, it ripped away into a slinky little piece. 

How soon after Suzy’s debut did she win her first crown, Miss Gay Tennessee America 2012? 

I won Miss Gay Tennessee America a little over a year after I started doing drag. 

Though we’ve had black family in the White House and won the fight for marriage equality, we now have a new president who has promised to overturn gay marriage and policies banning gender identity-based discrimination. Social media, bullying, and violence have forced us to recognize that there are those in our midst who wish us oppression and harm. At the same time, “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is wildly popular, its contestants are household names, and the show has a huge straight viewership. There are drag brunches full of girls. There are even drag queen heroes, such as Miss Gay North Carolina America 2015 Vivian Vaughan, who is a local star, thanks to her good works, and Miss Gay Oklahoma America Ry’Lee Hilton who was honored in late 2016 with a Citizen Hero Medal for saving a life. In light of the current welcoming/hateful climate, you think drag queens need to (once again) be activists as well as entertainers? 

There's the risk of stigma on all sides; preconceived notions of what it means to be red or blue, gay, trans or straight white guy. I think for me, all I can do is act and think on a personal level. All I can really can do as an ambassador is be consistent and be the best human I can be and best citizen I can be for my community, and by that example inspire others. Drag is a gateway. It's a perfect way to familiarize and have people that aren't familiar acclimate or get used to an uncomfortable situation or something that's unfamiliar. The use of drag queens has always been an icebreaker in social settings. They're exaggerated versions of what people think or the stigma of what flaming homosexuality is — and I say that in a very loving way. But it's also a good opportunity to kind of bond communities. I'm not trying to move mountains, as they say; I want to make a difference in a small way. •   

For more from Suzy, please follow her monthly newsletter, Sincerely Suzy. For her revealing February installment, she gets downright personal! In addition, each newsletter features a guest column by, as Suzy explains it, "one of my top ten sisters, giving them an opportunity to share some thoughts and practice for when they are MGA." This month's guest, Miss Gay Arizona 2016 Savannah Stevens.


Photo below: Scotty Kirby